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Construction giants accused of blacklisting workers

Information Commissioner’s Office swoops on Midlands private investigator and plans to prosecute

More than 40 of the country’s biggest construction companies have been accused by the government of using confidential personal data to blacklist ‘trouble-makers’.

The companies named by the information commissioner include Balfour Beatty, Costain, NG Bailey, Laing O’Rourke, Morgan Est, Miller Construction, Sir Robert McAlpine and Vinci.

The announcement today of the companies involved follows a raid on the offices of a private investigator allegedly paid to provide details on thousands of workers’ union activities.

There are claims that construction companies pooled information on workers via the private investigator and paid an annual subscription for access to information.

Companies contacted by the Guardian over the list claimed that they had inherited a relationship with the PI when buying businesses and had since stopped using the service.

The information was seized by the ICO during a raid in Droitwich, West Midlands.

Ian Kerr, the owner of a firm known as the Consulting Association, appears to have run the database for over fifteen years.

The ICO said it had uncovered evidence at Kerr’s premises that named construction firms subscribed to Kerr’s system for a £3,000 annual fee.

Companies could add information to the system and pay £2.20 for details held on individuals. Invoices to construction firms for up to £7,500 were seized during the raid.

The ICO has served an Enforcement Notice ordering Mr Kerr to stop using the system, and he now faces prosecution by the ICO for breaching the Data Protection Act.

ICO deputy information commissioner David Smith said: “This is a serious breach of the Data Protection Act. Not only was personal information held on individuals without their knowledge or consent but the very existence of the database was repeatedly denied. The covert system enabled Mr Kerr to unlawfully trade personal information on workers for many years helping the construction industry to vet prospective employees. The Data Protection Act clearly states that organisations must be open about how they process personal information, and in most cases those processing personal information must register with the ICO – Mr Kerr did not comply with the law on either count.

“On raiding Mr Kerr’s business premises we discovered an extensive operation involving household names in the construction industry. Kerr held information on thousands of construction workers and profited by checking names against his database.

“We will prosecute Mr Kerr and we are also considering what regulatory action to take against construction firms who have been using the system. I remind business leaders that they must take their obligations under the Data Protection Act seriously. Trading people’s personal details in this way is unlawful and we are determined to stamp out this type of activity.”